Willi: If alchemy is transmutation, is your work alchemic? How?

Benji: Our woods are dense and heavy. I think achieving a design that flows and seem to float is alchemic in a way.

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Interview with Benji by Willi

Tell us about the spiritual aspect in your sculpture making? Does re-use material speak to you?

I always preach to students to be true and honest to themselves. All these virtues are visible in one's work. The composition, fluidity and craftsmanship will inevitably picture the spirit of the creator and ultimately create the artist's identity. One also must respect and understand his material. I adhere to my principle of 'Build it once-build it right'. Giving reclaimed material a new lease on life for future generations to appreciate is what makes my art fulfilling. 

Is the final art piece revealed to you in the beginning? Or is this a process of discovery?

I am blessed to be able to work with some of the most beautiful reclaimed woods. There are species of woods that you have full control with and are able to whip it to the form you have in mind. Most of these woods I use for my furniture projects. I love sculpting burl and spalted wood. Working with hard gnarled wood requires a complete understanding of one's skill and what the material wants you to do. The end result is a collaboration of what nature has sculpted as a material for you to compliment with your skills. I am always in awe at the results after working on these sculptures. See examples here:  http://lumberjocks.com/projects/84628 and http://lumberjocks.com/projects/25026 .

How do you locate, purchase and transport your materials for your pieces? Do you have a network of sellers?

I acquired my first three 6"x6" x 8' posts 25 years ago for two bottles of cheap gin. It was delivered to me via pushcart. People used to pay demolition companies to tear down old homes, factories and bridges and for hauling away the old wood. Most of this old wood was used as fire wood for bake shops and restaurants. Today, the same guys and many more pay premium money for old homes. The use of reclaimed wood has become big business for salvage contractors and designers. The same guy who delivered my wood pushing his rickety cart 25 years ago now owns several trucks to haul and deliver old wood to my shop and other buyers. I have developed several suppliers through the years and have taught them how to classify wood species. 

What kinds of concerns are shared in the Philippine woodworking community?

Wood supply and respect for intellectual property rights.

Is there a green business movement in the Philippines?

Recycling is big business in the Philippines. From wood, paper, metals to plastic. Sad to say some have a different idea of what green is (bucks). 

Do you ask your children to help you create your work? Are their dreams in your art?

My wife and two daughters are the driving forces in my art. I am still thrilled to see their reactions when I come out with a new design. My two girls grew up watching me design and craft wood. They're a big help in handling the business side of my art.

Are there new myths emerging in your country after the wars, occupations, corruption and economic strive?

The Philippines have been thickly influenced by many cultures since way back 14oo's. Even before being under the Spanish rule for 300 years, we were 'visited' by the Malays, Indians and the Dutch. The Japanese and Americans were also part of the whole socio-economic roller coaster.

The Philippines has since been adamant in establishing its own design identity. In my own little way, I started with a dream to show the world what Philippine design (furniture and architecture) is. It has been 30 years then and I think I have established something to show the world that hopefully will make my fellowmen proud of. 

I'm not much into politics; it disrupts the mind. All I can say is that we now have a good president working for the people. 

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Benji Reyes (Born Nov.6, 1958)
Lives and works at his 'Tahanan' (home) in the hills of Antipolo, Philippines



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